Sumendu, a migrant worker was waiting to board a bus at Awadh Bus Stand to leave for his home state of Chhattisgarh, in Lucknow, on April 5 with a heavy heart. A father of four and sole breadwinner of the family, Sumendu worked as a construction worker in Lucknow who had returned two months back hoping to get some work. But he is now leaving the city over rumours that Uttar Pradesh is likely to undergo another lockdown amid rising cases of COVID-19.
“During March last year, after the sudden nationwide lockdown, a large number of labourers from Lucknow and adjoining areas had migrated on foot since all form of transportation in the country ha come to a standstill. No one can ever forget the agony of migrant workers who reached their village on the foot after walking for several days. A similar fear about another lockdown is haunting us again, therefore, we are going back to our village,” a distraught Sumendu told NewsClick as he boarded the bus empty-handed, adding that he had thought things would have returned to normal in a few months but to no avail.
Following the rocketing of COVID-19 cases in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi Adityanath led Bharatiya Janata Party government has extended the Epidemic Control Act across the state till June 30 this year, closing schools up to April 11. These measures have left the migrant workers worried about an imminent lockdown. According to Sumendu, a huge chunk of migrant workers have already left the state capital days before Holi and the rest are planning to go back to their native villages as they fear that they will be stuck without job and cash like the last time.
Hemant, a 45-year-old worker from Bihar’s Purnia region expressed similar sentiments. He had returned to Ayodhya at the construction site earlier but is now going back to his village.
Recounting last year’s horror of lockdown, Hemant said, “Construction work is underway at our site. It was resumed in October last year when most of the workers returned back from their village. Since then work was progressing smoothly, but from the second week of March when COVID-19 cases began increasing rapidly, a fear of infection and now about another lockdown has started haunting us. Out of a group of 35 workers, 20 of them have already left for their hometowns in Bihar last week.”
According to an employee of the Uttar Pradesh State Roadways Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) employee, who wished to remain anonymous, over 5-6 buses took the migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow and Ayodhya to Bihar and Chattisgarh in the last week of March. When he reached the bus stand, he was told that migrant workeres were returning home not only for Holi but also due to the fear of lockdown.
“We have seen a considerable increase in the number of daily passengers travelling through various buses from Lucknow to Bihar and other parts of North India, including Lucknow to Patna, Lucknow to Chattisgarh and Lucknow to Bihar and others,” UPSRTC regional manager Pallav Bose told NewsClick.
The fear of lockdown among workers and traders increased after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has directed to seal 20 houses adjoining one positive case in Lucknow and asked the administration to follow the new guidelines – that the entire area is to be declared a containment zone if a single active case is reported from there.
However, amid growing fears, state Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh has said that there was no need for lockdown like restrictions in the state as of now. “The government is focusing on strict containment strategies, strengthening surveillance and augmenting testing to arrest the COVID-19 cases before it takes an alarming proposition,” he had added.
NewsClick spoke with over a dozen migrant workers from Mungeli, Bemetara, Bastar, Bilaspur, Raipur and Kawardha in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar, all of whom said that they don’t want to go their home town no matter what as they don’t not have means of livelihood or survival there.
However, Jogeshwar, a construction worker in Lucknow’s Gomti Nagar, told NewsClick, “We will die if the government imposes a lockdown once again. We came here from Chattisgarh in search of livelihood and if it is again left on stake, then we will have no option except to go back to the same place where we cannot even manage a single meal.”
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh reported 3,999 fresh COVID-19 cases on April 5, taking the tally to 6,34,033, while 13 fatalities pushed the death toll to 8,894.